Gavan's Chartered Physiotherapist, Emmet Hartigan gives us some background and insights into the work and preparation they did together ahead of Gavan's adventure across the Atlantic Ocean.

It was about a year ago when Gavan and I sat down for a coffee in Salthill, Galway and he told me about his plans to row across the Atlantic for charity. One of the first things I thought was “you’re going to need a lot of physio!!!”. Not because Gav is in any way injury prone but due to the scale of this challenge and the massive physical toll it would have on his body. The number of hours he would have to spend training for it would be an ordeal for anyone’s body.

Thankfully Gav was keen to get my thoughts and jumped at my suggestion that we work together to get him as physically prepared as possible. The work began almost instantly. Gav and I sat down down again shortly after this to chart out how his training programme would progress over the year, other events which he had already planned, how these events would change his injury profile, and how best to tackle this challenge from a physiotherapy perspective.

The first challenge we had was that Gavan had a number of adventures planned in the interim which had nothing to do with rowing!! Gav was already well into his training for his second attempt at the Yukon Arctic Ultra Marathon and of course while dragging a tyre for 12 hours a day around the back roads of Connemara he caused significant wear and tear to his calf muscles, glutes and left ankle. We had a race against time to diagnose and treat his ankle before he flew to Canada for the race. After a battery of testing we tired several approaches to treatment, deep tissue massage, taping, dry needling therapy, ankle and joint moblisations, ultra-sound therapy and altered his footwear to optimise his ankle and foot position when running and walking. While we made good progress the timing of the race and and the intensity of the training meant that Gavan carried that injury a little into the race with him. Thankfully he managed it quite well and it only bothered him towards the end and he still managed a fantastic 2nd place finish!!!

On his return to Ireland we put together an extensive flexibilty regime to improved his overall movement in preparation for his next challenge – the solo trek across frozen Lake Bikal in Siberia. Gavan at this stage also began to start his rowing training in earnest and was spending 2 hours daily on the rowing machine in his apartment. This resulted in some lower back and hip flexor tightness. It was however always going to be part and parcel with the training regime, as well as the race itself so we worked extremely hard to maximize his movement in these areas. Gav would attend regularly for soft tissue massage, myofascial release, dry needling therapy, correction of exercise technique and tweeks to his programme. And from time to time he would come in just for a quick motivational session (i.e. a scolding) if he started to lag on his injury prevention work.

Gavan had one significant injury over the year which came on as a result of training for and competing in both the Art O’Neill challenge and an ultra- marathon run across the hills from Westport to Achill. Due the his training load and the development of trigger points in the gluteal muscles he began to have pain, loss of power and some strange sensation in his left leg. He required extensive work on his lower back, gluteals and muscles of the leg as well as a re- education programme to ensure his core and stabilizing muscles were firing correctly.

One of the most unique aspects of working with Gavan for the Talisker Atlantic Challenge was trying to anticipate his needs after 30-40 days of rowing and in the confined space of his boat Doireann. We spent a session in the boat itself discussing what his priority areas would be and modifying a maintanence programme which he could complete while on the water. Obviously this took some thinking outside the box and a bit of trial and error. Some of the work would also be weather dependent as the size and direction of the swell could seriously affect the ability to carry out the programme.

Through a lot of hard work, good planning and treatment Gavan started the race injury free and in great shape. The race will of course take it’s toll but the fatigue, sleep deprivation, cuts and bruises will likely take a far worse toll than any muscular injuries he will suffer. One thing I know for certain is that I’ll be seeing quite a bit of Gavan when he gets back from Antigua. I’m not sure what adventure he has planned for later this year, but we’ll start again and make sure he’s ready!!!

Emmett Hartigan MISCP

Galway Bay Physio - 091 569706 -